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The Internet is my TiVo: Doctor Who, Series Five premiere

April 3, 2010

One of the great advantages to living in the early part of the 21st century is that traditional ideas about local, regional, or even national broadcasting have been made quaint by technology which can quickly deliver new shows to a global audience, often within mere hours of original broadcast. While those stuck in business models that stop at channel 13 might decry this as piracy or theft, they’re missing a revolution in how we consume media and pursue entertainment. Just as cable eclipsed over the air TV, and satellite eclipsed cable, digital on-demand programming from around the globe will become the new model (Hulu comes incredibly close to getting it, but fails miserably by locking out viewers not in the USA). The internet is my TiVo.

Now that I have my grand statements about the internet and democratization of media out of the way, here’s why this is a good thing: I am a fan of Doctor Who, and tonight the show returned to UK television screens. As I do not live in the UK this could have been a problem, but thanks to the internet I have managed to culture shift myself across an ocean and find a spot in front of the telly.

The Doctor, Matt Smith.

For those of you not in the know, Doctor Who is to the UK as Star Trek is to the USA. Since 1963 (save for a few dark years in the 90’s and early 2000’s when the show was off the air) the Doctor has been having adventures in time and space, alternately thrilling and scaring generations of fans both in and outside of the United Kingdom. Sometimes alone, sometimes with a series of companions, the Doctor has benefited the most open-ended premise one could imagine: He’s a Time Lord who can go anywhere or anywhen.

Like that other great British export, James Bond, the Doctor has been played by a succession of actors, with the passing of the role attracting a great deal of excitement. The exchange of the lead is accomplished through the clever plot device of ‘regeneration’ – the Doctor is an alien, and when he is near death his body renews into that of a new man, with a new face and personality. At the end of the last series previous Doctor David Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith, the latest face of the Time Lord, and tonight he had his first full episode, “The Eleventh Hour.”

Smith grabs hold of the character immediately, building on the minute of screen time he had at the end of Tennant’s swan song, “The End of Time.” First episodes have traditionally been uneven – there’s a great deal of character development which needs to happen as the actor tries to set himself apart from those who came before, but viewers must also be engaged with an entertaining story. When they go bad they can mar a Doctor’s entire run, as the almost universally panned “The Twin Dilemma” did to under-appreciated Sixth Doctor Colin Baker in the 1980’s. Even Tennant, Smith’s much loved predecessor, spent most of his first episode passed out, leaving the lion’s share of the action to supporting characters. In contrast “The Eleventh Hour” is a tight action story that draws the viewer in so expertly you forget there’s a new guy in the driver’s seat.

Perhaps even more important a change to world of Doctor Who is the replacement of previous showrunner Russel T. Davies, who before reviving the show in 2005 gave us Queer as Folk. When Davies announced he was leaving the fan choice for his replacement was writer Stephen Moffat, and the fans were given their wish. Moffat has written some of the most popular episodes of the new series, and I for one have always daydreamed what he could do with the entire show. If the series five premiere is any indication, he’s capable of a lot.

In an episode of new Doctors, writers, and direction, new companion Amy Pond (played by Karen Gillan) avoided being swept to the side and instead became one of the most intriguing parts of Moffat’s vision for the show. Within the span of one episode the Doctor and Amy are given an original back story and conflict to resolve, and I’m very interested in seeing where we’ll be taken over the next twelve episodes. When Russel T. Davies brought the series back in 2005 he chose as his companion Rose (played by Billy Piper), blonde and popular, if restless with her life. Amy Pond is an outsider with abandonment issues, and I don’t know what it says about me that she feels much more familiar and comfortable than Rose ever did.

If you’re not the sort to bother with torrents, downloading, or YouTubes, and you live in either the USA or Canada, series five of Doctor Who begins April 17th on BBC America and Space.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2010 5:36 am

    Maybe it was a quirk of PBS’s acquisition process in the 70s but for a long time the only Doctor I knew was Colin Baker’s… I even called my superlong striped scarf my “Doctor Who” scarf.

  2. April 4, 2010 9:41 am

    Oh, god help me, I am about to be a total nerd: I think you’re thinking of Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor (who had a long and popular run). Colin No-Relation-Baker came in the mid-80’s and had a very short run. Tom was known for his scarf, Colin for his garish overcoat.

  3. April 4, 2010 11:12 am

    Do you have still have this scarf?

  4. April 4, 2010 11:13 am

    No that scarf has (thankfully) been lost to the sands of time.

  5. April 4, 2010 11:17 am

    never mind

  6. hsofia permalink
    April 4, 2010 12:16 pm

    Thanks for the heads up; will have to get it/watch it. I’m glad to hear it was good!

  7. April 4, 2010 12:37 pm

    LOL. I personally thought Chet Baker was the 70s Dr. Who.

  8. evmaroon permalink
    April 4, 2010 12:38 pm

    I was such a Tom Baker fan in the 70s and 80s that I learned to knit just so I could produce my own 20-foot scarf. My poor Mom, she thought I was finally acting like a real girl until she saw the monstrosity I came up with.

    I still remember debating over which Romana was better.

    I also really hear what you said about Rose; I haven’t watched the premiere yet, but I’m excited that it gave you hope for the season.

  9. April 4, 2010 1:20 pm

    I always get those fabulous Baker Boys confused.

  10. April 4, 2010 1:32 pm

    Haha, I think a addiction-riddled, depressed, trumpet playing Doctor could be about the best thing ever. I can almost hear the opening theme done as a melancholy jazz trumpet piece.

  11. April 4, 2010 8:04 pm

    thank you thank you thank you for reminding me about this. I knew there was a reason I was looking forward to Easter, and it sho nuff wasn’t Vampire Jeebus.

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